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Summer Tutoring: The Good, the Bad, the Bribery

Girl Reading OutdoorsThe other day I brought my daughter to day camp late because she had to go to math tutoring. This is our third summer of tutoring appointments, so there is a grace to these sessions that we surely lacked during summer number one.

Take this snapshot from our very first summer reading tutoring session of our learning disability journey:

I dropped my older daughter off at a play date and told Annie we were going to her reading tutor Lisa’s house.

It’s summer, Mom. I don’t have to go to tutoring,” said an adamant Annie.

“You have to go to tutoring. But it’s shorter now and we can get a treat afterwards,” I told her, trying to sound upbeat. The hour session had been changed to 45 minutes, due to Annie’s frustration level.

“No. It’s summer. I want to have a play date. Let’s go home. I’m not going,” Annie said to me in a clipped voice.

“We are going,” I replied.

I drove while Annie tried to barter her way out of the session. I turned on the music to distract her. She loves to sing, and so she sang.

Ten minutes later I tried to get Annie out of the car in front of the tutor’s house, but she was having none of it.

“Mom! Turn the car around! I want to go home. KK has a play date. I want a play date!”

She screamed, but I eased her out of the car and promised a trip to Starbucks afterward.

She was right. It was summer. It wasn’t fair, in some big way, to need extra help. But that is life.

“Are we done yet? This is boring,” Annie said every few minutes during the session.

She raised three fingers, the number of minutes she wanted the session to be done in.

Over the top of Annie’s head, Lisa and I agreed to cut the weekly meetings to 30 minutes.

The girl was actually learning, even though she strongly resisted this reading tutoring method. I got it; trying to shape her mouth like the small picture in front of her while making a specific sound was not easy or exciting.

Somehow we made it through those 30 minutes. As we walked to the car, I told Annie that I hoped she would be calmer at the next reading tutoring session.

“This is your job right now: these tutoring sessions,” I reminded her.

“OK, OK, stop talking about it,” she said. She didn’t like my somewhat stern voice, and she was all done with tutoring for the day, thank you very much. We drove to Starbucks.

Flash forward to a recent morning, three summers after that difficult first one:

Annie waited with anticipation for her math tutor to arrive at our house. She read a chapter book while she waited. She was doing this to impress her tutor, knowing that the tutor would say how great it is that she is reading a chapter book. There was no screaming about unfairness and no bribery was necessary.

Mind you, this is not how summer tutoring goes all the time now. There is still grumbling. Both of us are used to summer tutoring now though. I have some tricks up my sleeve:

  • Bribery. I ruthlessly bribe Annie almost every time she resists summer tutoring. I can see her point about unfairness, and even though I know life is unfair, a treat after a session is more than fine with me.
  • This is your job. I tell Annie this all the time. She may not like that learning is more difficult for her, or even that she has to learn. It doesn’t really matter; the job of a school-aged child is to learn.
  • Other kids are like her. She is not the only child enduring summer tutoring. I list people off on my fingertips to her, people she knows. She is not alone with her reading and math learning disabilities.
  • Breaks. We take breaks, from not going to tutoring sessions for a few weeks to not practicing at home all the time.

Annie’s trick is even better than my trick: She is drafting off of her big successes this year. She can read chapter books, and even though she is way behind in math (think pre-kindergarten level at age 8), she likes math.

There is nothing like success to breed more success. That first summer, and long afterward, she really believed she would never be a reader. Why try when she had no hope?

Now she believes she is a smart girl, a reader, and a person who likes math.

If you are at the beginning of your child’s learning disability journey, or dealing with summer school for catch-up or skill improvement, your child may be lacking that feeling of confidence that makes facing a summer of tutoring a bit easier. I hear you. It’s hard dragging the child who doesn’t want to go to a session to that session. Know that is gets easier.

And that bribery works.

nancy-altonWriter, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of a memoir. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.

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